Steve Gagne and James Eddy have been doing a lot of slacking lately. In fact, they're putting their martial arts training on the line.
With the use of a slackline, a thick, nylon-webbed strap which stretches between two trees, the pair have been practising their balance, rehabilitating old injuries and perfecting new stunts.
According to slackline.com, slacklining, which was developed in the late 1970s, is the sport of walking a small, flat nylon rope between two points. It can be practised anywhere with two anchor points — Eddy and Gagne prefer the tree-lined landscape of Bell Park.
Super Bowl fans may have noticed some slacklining during Madonna's halftime show at the 2011 game. Slackline pro Andy Lewis "danced" alongside the Material Girl as part of the performance.
While the concept of the sport is comparable to tight-rope walking, it differs in that the slackline is often wider and not held as rigidly taut. The slackline also allows for stretching and bouncing.
"It's just like a trampoline," Gagne said. "It just acts a little bit differently, you just have to groove with it. You can get creative and do all kinds of things."
In fact, there are a number of athletic benefits to slackline training.
"It's a great stabilizer exercise," Eddy said. That, in turn, helps him improve his techniques in karate and aikido, which he has been practising most of his life.
"It helps with your balance and stabilizers, so when you're on one leg, it improves your kicks," he said.
Gagne has also been a lifelong martial artist, and more recently, a movie stunt person. He said the slackline has helped him to rehabilitate old injuries to his knee and ankle.
"Slacklining just really fires up the joints and the stabilizers and helps recover the strength behind them, so I can stay healthy and keep working," he said.
"It's a good way to challenge and strengthen muscle groups that I'm not used to in martial arts or gymnastics," he added. "And with the stunt industry, when you're called to do something, you have a minimum of one or two days to get the skill sets to do the stunt. You always have to be ready, so some good daily slacklining routines really helps to prepare us for that."
What Laurel and Jenny think:
Fellow Northern Life reporter Jenny Jelen and I recently spent some time with Steve and James, learning the ins and outs — or, more accurately, the ups and downs — of slackline training. The pair was quick to offer us an opportunity to test our poise atop the slackline, and Jenny and I were quick to accept.
I volunteered to go first.
With Steve's hand firmly in mine, I climbed up on the slackline to make my first attempt at crossing to the opposite tree. I think he was offering his hand more as a way to catch my balance if needed, but since I never had my balance in the first place, Steve was attached to me for the entire trek.
As I walked, I tried to keep James' pointers in mind — don't look at your feet, stay focused on the other side; bend your knees and keep your arms up; and relax. Well, as I made it to the middle of the line and the strap started shaking wildly, my eyes were on my feet and the ground a couple feet below them, my knees were locked and my arms were flailing, and I was tenser than the line stretched between the two trees. I was about to bail.
With the help of Steve's trusty grip, I did make it to the other side. I even managed to turn around before losing my balance completely.
On my second trip across, James was less generous with his assistance, offering only one finger for me to bounce my palm off of as I struggled to gain control of my balance.
As much as it hurts my competitive spirit to admit, Jenny stayed on the line longer than me.
“I think the hours spent mindlessly trying to balance on household items paid off,” she said. “Trying to stand on overturned barrels, planks balanced across broom sticks and even learning to skateboard wasn’t so useless after all.”
But even as I fell off a second time, I was anything but discouraged. I may have even been hooked. In fact, I think there's some trees in my backyard pining for a slackline.